My read on that letter Lindsey Graham sent to Comey yesterday was that it was an obvious pretext to authorize Comey to speak up on wiretapping, as he allegedly wants to do. Twenty-four hours later, here’s Comey on the Hill meeting with the leadership in both parties to discuss that very subject.
Or part of it, at least.
FBI Director James Comey met with key Senate lawmakers Thursday, where he discussed matters relating to the alleged wire-tapping of Trump Tower, a congressional source familiar with the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election told NBC News.
Comey met with Sens. Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Richard Burr and Mark Warner, followed by a meeting with Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, along with Reps. Adam Schiff and Devin Nunes.
Trump, Saturday morning: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” I don’t know of any media report that backs him up in claiming that phones were tapped at Trump Tower, but Heat Street did allege last November that a server in the building was the subject of a FISA order:
Contrary to earlier reporting in the New York Times, which cited FBI sources as saying that the agency did not believe that the private server in Donald Trump’s Trump Tower which was connected to a Russian bank had any nefarious purpose, the FBI’s counter-intelligence arm, sources say, re-drew an earlier FISA court request around possible financial and banking offenses related to the server. The first request, which, sources say, named Trump, was denied back in June, but the second was drawn more narrowly and was granted in October after evidence was presented of a server, possibly related to the Trump campaign, and its alleged links to two banks; SVB Bank and Russia’s Alfa Bank. While the Times story speaks of metadata, sources suggest that a FISA warrant was granted to look at the full content of emails and other related documents that may concern US persons.
The left made a ruckus a week before the election about the odd series of “look-up” attempts by the Alfa Bank server aimed at the Trump server, but tech experts quickly challenged their suspicions. There was nothing inherently shady about one server pinging another, they noted. Even the NYT, in a story published October 31st, reported that the FBI had lost interest in the server, concluding “that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts.” If there was a FISA order targeting the server, it looked like it was a bust.
Or was it? Here’s a surprising update published by CNN just within the last few hours this evening. The FBI’s counterintelligence unit is still investigating the server, their sources claim — but the server was never the subject of a FISA order. And … it’s not located in Trump Tower. It’s apparently located in Pennsylvania. Weirder and weirder:
CNN is told there was no Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant on the server…
This issue intrigued a dozen computer researchers at a recent business conference in Washington, D.C. that pulled together the world’s top network operators, the ones who help run the internet. To them, it’s a strange coincidence that merits further scrutiny…
What puzzled [experts] was why a Russian bank was repeatedly looking up the contact information for mail1.trump-email.com.
Publicly available internet records show that address, which was registered to the Trump Organization, points to an IP address that lives on an otherwise dull machine operated by a company in the tiny rural town of Lititz, Pennsylvania.
The “communications” between the servers were entirely one-sided. Alfa Bank pinged the Trump server nearly 3,000 times, accounting for 80 percent of the “look-up” attempts it dealt with. There’s no evidence that the Trump server ever pinged back. Why would a computer in Russia be so interested in a computer in Pennsylvania? One possibility is that it was spam: Alfa executives have stayed at Trump hotels, likely received spam promotional emails from the Trump Organization, and when they did their bank’s server took defensive measures by looking up the email source. That doesn’t explain, though, why this one bank would account for so many pings. Presumably executives from companies all over the world who’ve stayed at Trump hotels are in the same boat in receiving promotional emails. Why aren’t their servers pinging the Trump server?
Another theory, per CNN, is that the “Trump server” isn’t really a Trump server. It may have been repurposed by a company called Cendyn, and then the new owner might have used it to send email to Alfa Bank. In fact, Cendyn claims it discovered that a client who uses its email software communicated with Alfa. Just one problem: After investigating, Alfa says it found no emails sent from the “Trump server,” leaving no obvious reason for why Alfa’s server would be doing “look-ups” in response. Yet another possibility: Cendyn claims that it transferred the mail1.trump-email.com domain back to Trump’s company after the company switched to a different email client, a firm called Serenata, last year. So maybe Serenata knows why the server is being pinged. Or … maybe not — Serenata told CNN it’s never operated that domain. None of which is proof of anything nefarious happening between the Alfa Bank server and the Trump server, just that investigators are still puzzled by what’s going on.
Back to the point at hand, though: If CNN’s right, the now famous Heat Street report appears to be wrong. The server that was contacted by the Russian bank isn’t at Trump Tower, and there was never any FISA order against it. (Unless Heat Street was referring to a different Trump server, that is.) So what was Comey’s chat with the senators about today? Did he confirm — or debunk — Trump’s claim that wiretapping went on inside the building? Did he relay to them the gist of what CNN is reporting tonight about the odd server communications? Hard to believe the gist of his briefing isn’t going to leak. We’ll know soon.
By the way, a new YouGov poll finds that the public is more likely to believe Obama administration officials on this wiretapping matter than Trump officials, 46/29. And when asked if they think Trump’s allegation about wiretapping is true or false, they split 30/50. I know, I know — “fake news!”